Semester’s End

Another semester has come and gone. We graduated 1,770 students at the end of December, many of them joining us in the Kohl Center for the ceremony. The Winter Commencement address was delivered by Jason Gay, columnist for the Wall Street Journal and a proud (and humorous) UW-Madison alum. (I also encourage you to watch the remarks from our student speaker Lisa Kamal, she did a wonderful job.)

Seeing a Kohl Center full of graduates reminded me of the incredible successes of all our students. Taken as a whole, the numbers we use to track that success continue to show improvement to historic levels.

Here are several reasons I’m so proud:

  • Undergraduates are taking less time to complete their degrees, setting a new record – 3.96 calendar years – the lowest since the university began actively tracking the measure in the 1980s. This is the first time the number has dropped below four calendar years.
  • The six-year graduation rate (the standard measure used across higher education) for freshmen entering the university in 2013 rose to 87.6 percent from 87.4 percent. This puts us among the top 10 public universities.
  • The freshmen-to-sophomore retention rate is 95.2 percent, the seventh-consecutive year the figure has been above 95 percent.

Our students continue to reach remarkable personal achievements, as well. Senior Claire Evensen, who is majoring in biochemistry and mathematics with comprehensive honors, is the recipient of a Marshall Scholarship, one of academia’s most prestigious honors.

Evensen, a native of Verona, Wisconsin, was also among the three finalists in the Rhodes Scholarship awards from UW-Madison, which itself is an extraordinary achievement and a signifier of the quality of students we have on our campus.

The other finalists were, Kevin Crosby, a senior from Brandywine, Maryland, majoring in nutritional sciences, with a certificate in environmental studies; and, Lauren Jorgensen, a May 2019 graduate with a bachelor’s degree in agronomy and community and environmental sociology, with certificates in environmental studies, food systems, and global health. Jorgensen is from Stillwater, Minnesota, and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in public affairs through an accelerated program at the Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs.

Congratulations to Claire, Lauren and Kevin on this impressive accomplishment and on all they’ve achieved, and thanks to them for reflecting so well on this institution and on the many opportunities we offer to learn in and outside the classroom.

Lastly, like many of you I am cheering on  our volleyball team as it competes in the Final Four of the 2019 NCAA Tournament. And I will be in Pasadena on January 1 to root for our Badgers at the Rose Bowl against the University of Oregon.

I’ve reached out to Oregon President Michael Schill and “wagered” our finest Babcock cheese against some Oregon wines over the outcome of the game. I will enjoy drinking his Oregon wine in 2020—I suspect it pairs nicely with our own cheddar.

I want to wish you all a safe and restful winter break, and I will see you back on campus in 2020.